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Surviving the Raiders of Angkor Wat

Surviving the Raiders of Angkor Wat

AFTER months of anxious planning and intense media speculation, location

shooting for the Paramount Films production of Tomb Raider finally took place in

Siem Reap from November 22 till 29.

As tourists come to see Lara's Angkor, where Cambodians dress in Vietnamese hats and live in a fishing village on the steps of Angkor Wat, the temples will be framed by a new, contemporary mythology, that might one day rival the original Angkorean myths of creation.

Beginning on November 18, the

Paramount Films entourage, including Academy Award winner Angelina Jolie,

rumbled into Siem Reap in a fleet of 30 trucks, Angkor Wat's first brush with

Hollywood since Peter O'Toole hit town in 1964 to film Lord Jim.

As John

McGeoghan, the film's now-exhausted transport coordinator told the Post, "People

just stopped their early morning activities, frozen by the sight of a line of

green flashing truck lights stretching way off into the dusty


Indeed, in reflecting on what he has had to organize over

recent weeks, McGeoghan is still staggered by the sheer scale of the whole


"Besides overcoming the infrastructure problems of getting a

convoy of thirty service trucks from Thailand, we had to hire over a hundred

vehicles locally, put together a team of thirty interpreters, four hundred

extras and even build a village in Angkor Wat before filming could begin,"

McGeoghan said.

The arrival of over 150 film crew, referred to by

Paramount's spokesperson Sue D'Arcy as "like an army on the move", has had what

the production's location manager Nick Ray says is a "great and desperately

needed" mini economic boom.

It was a boom, however, that some local

residents grumble could have been distributed around town more


Decisions to locate virtually the entire crew in the Thai-owned

Sofitel Royal Angkor, and Paramount's insistence that much of the on-set food be

flown in from Thailand meant that other locally owned hotels and food producers

were cut out of the supply market loop.

Extras take a break during the filming of Tomb Raider

Concerns about how the film

would portray Cambodia internationally were also proven to have been warranted.

As Angelina Jolie jumped and dived around Angkor over the course of

eight days of shooting in her role as Tomb Raider femme fatale Lara Croft, the

film's depiction of brightly dressed monks and seemingly idyllic villages

populated by people inexplicably wearing traditional Vietnamese hats, (much to

the annoyance of the locally hired extras) showed little awareness or

sensitivity to the reality of modern Cambodia.

Ang Choulean, spokesperson

for Apsara Authority, which is responsible for conservation of the Angkor

Complex, dismissed such criticism, calling it "ill-informed and thus


And although the film has been touted as a vehicle to boost

tourist arrivals to Angkor, Apsara has acknowledged complaints from tourists of

"rude and aggressive" treatment by film crew members during


However, in spite of an incident in which a film crew member

attempted to climb scaffolding to get on the temple roof, Apsara spokesperson

Ashley Thompson said the filming in no way harmed the physical integrity of the

Angkor Wat site.

"At this point we are completely satisfied with our

temple protection program, and our initial post-shoot reports show everything is

completely as it should be," Thompson said.

The real fragility of Angkor,

however, lies not in the stones themselves, but in its vulnerable image as an

emerging global tourist destination.

As tourists come to see Lara's

Angkor, where Cambodians dress in Vietnamese hats and live in a fishing village

on the steps of Angkor Wat, the temples will be framed by a new, contemporary

mythology, that might one day rival the original Angkorean myths of creation.

Tomb Raider tours, T-shirts and theme bars may well become the film's most

tangible legacy to nearby Siem Reap.

"We are unsure what the long-term

impact Tomb Raider will have," Choulean said, adding that he hoped the film will

raise international awareness of the threat to the temples posed by the illegal

antiquity trade

While the physical structures survived Paramount and

Jolie, only after Tomb Raider's summer 2001 release will it be possible to judge

whether Lara's visit has protected, or indeed looted, the cultural value of

Angkor Wat.


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